Meditation on Muscle Memory

If I had musical talent
I wouldn’t write poems.

Guitar-grown fingernails.
Nimble strings.

There’s no need
to lie. I couldn’t bring myself to try

when my parents thought
it’d be a good idea for me
to take piano lessons.

I had Game Boy eyes
and the Final Fantasy theme on repeat.

My dad had already explained
the difference between basin wrench

and torque. Wasted an afternoon
taping leaking pipes.

Like many of his time
he knew plumbing, mechanics,
home improvement

then brought me into rooms with broken
machines. My mind was Mickey Mouse
spelling words and song,

not the kind to vivisect
a bird to learn the function.

All I knew were not even stories yet
and still my hands
sing few callouses.

 

(originally published in Pirene’s Fountain, Spring 2018)

Library Days

That gray summer was spent buried
in fantasy novels beside my father’s grave.

It was rain in bitter heat, a whirlwind of pages
as my hands returned to oak, night lamp aglow.

Always I end in a nestle of branches and words,
longing to strip my faded jeans and unbathe,

ride a dragon into goldenrod, triangular
wings swallowing the neutral sky–

so often I shovel terrain in my mouth,
wishing time erode the sediment

that builds cities in my body,
skyscrapers in my throat.

 

(originally published in The Piedmont Journal of Poetry and Fiction, Winter 2017)

Ghosts

Heard the word son alone in the kitchen
of my childhood home.

His gravelly drawl was unmistakable.
I waited for him to say more, but

memories of my father are strangers
to each other. And every stranger

becomes a ghost passing
through another stranger’s life.

A wind tapped at the window,
wanted to say something, too.

When he was alive,
I did not listen

until I wanted
and I did not want

until he was silent
in a disposable suit.

I gave it a shot: pressed my ears
against the shingles, cold.

The wind
mimicked ghosts.

 

(originally published in In-flight Literary Magazine, Fall 2016)

I Tell Her I Love Her

I tell my girlfriend I love her
before we go to bed every night.
I tell her I love her in Vegas, in front
of slot machines spinning statistics,

neon colors blinding eyes beyond
our blur of vodka. I tell her I love her
before we fight in a tent on the beach
drunken under blankets and after that, too.

I don’t tell my mom I love her
on the phone when she’s alone
in her bedroom, when she cries
many nights because her twenty-

nine year marriage lives only in memories,
photographs, marginalia, in the musk
of dried sweat on forest-green cargos.
He had dragged an oak limb

after soft rain; now, crusted mud–
crevices alive in the treading
of boots– traces new footsteps
on less-traversed floors.

 

(originally published in Boston Accent Lit, Summer 2016)

My Father Was a Beekeeper

I always knew my father was allergic to bees
but it wasn’t until his obituary
I learned he was once a beekeeper.

In those days, I hear, he prayed
to his veil– only to re-emerge, hours later,
having danced with God
under every umber swarm.

He was a gifted storyteller
but it wasn’t until his stroke
at seventy-four made me listen,
when his mouth betrayed his brain.

In his final years he would repeat,
the end of bees is the end of man.
So, heaven in the soft petals
scattered in the grass.

Young violets lined his coffin.
All I wanted was to listen

to stories he told before,
details I had forgotten.

Around the cemetery,
bees still glissando

through gardens not unlike the ones
he dug into his blackened fingernails–

honey and sweat, story-
pollinated requiems, harmonies

heard in bountiful
fields of bloodroot.

 

(originally published in Kaaterskill Basin Literary Journal – Spring 2016)

*Nominated for the Best of the Net Anthology

Happy Hour Whiskey

I don’t think my dad would be proud of me
writing poems on bar napkins
after that fifth happy hour whiskey.

This is how I want it: to be disengaged
by the time my uniform cuffs roll
to my eyes in stupor to avoid the

solemn eyes of ancestors in the sky.
Transparent Mufasas and steely voices
judge me like America judges Kardashians.

The reality is you can rewind the DV tape
back to the beginning tomorrow and show me
the footage of my stumbling into the driver’s seat.

The cosmos roll in their graves.
Meanwhile I am the last child
who can cast the line onward–

past, present, future.
A syzygy from birth.
The headlights wane.

 

(originally published in Jawline Review, Spring 2016)

Rob Delaney

Hi, I am Rob Delaney.
I am not Rob Delaney

and he would never begin a five-minute set like that,
but before California dangled blackberries
above my granite mouth,

Rob showed us the way and the truth and the life
(John fourteen-six by the score of silent thumbs)

god, twitter fame was the only thing
that could bring us nearer gods we do not believe in

this big bang of a perpetually expanding following
we cannot fully understand

by choice I never listened to robins
conducting high-frequency symphonies

(but I did read Last Call of the Passenger Pigeon
by Daniel A. Hoyt that summer
and could form the parentheses of a whistle
enough to calculate the slow kettle of tea)

my father would sit on a pig stump
(an oak whose life he ended himself)
and watch birds fly the superhighway,
clouds like rush hour in L.A.

like some hippie saint claiming
all that is God
is not man-made

I always thought of bird-watching as a way
for the elderly to augment their loneliness

now all the young men I know
fetishize loneliness in themselves

 

(originally published in LEVELER – Summer 2015)

Because I Never Listened to Your Stories

Thirty-five years and fingernails
darken, blacken from walnuts
and the cracks of hammers, the coming
of dawn, clouds wrapped in thunder–

the fruiting spire, the pear-toned
light, the front lawn fire, charcoal
grass, green peels ripening– ripe–
soft–

red Helix stagnant, lonesome, remembering
the wet-leather thunderstorm days
cruisin’ seventy,
the human box of organs and history
holding rubber handles
treaded like hieroglyphics–

interpret me. Listen.

These are the words on the bathroom stall
fingernail-scratched and ignored

What Will You Remember?

Not the stories told in tones softer than television

 

(originally published in NEAT., Issue 7)

Up and Down the Stairs

Watched watched time
slip in every missed wooden swing
and pixelated glove’s plop

I ran up and down the stairs on
measured pink-speckled carpet,
to the basement, to the kitchen, to the basement,
to the kitchen – a treadmill’s dream, the incline
an inclination against elderly lethargy,
the seventh inning, an extra inning,
watery left eye saying, how do you move
so swiftly, turning to the tv to make a call for

the bullpen, the bullpen,
call in the bullpen,

call the hospital:
the only time I said I love you and
I croaked it

in my chest. The mumbled sine wave.
I clicked the phone off,
game ending, closer to the closer, the

closed door,
the casket we closed to forget.

 

(originally published in Corvus Review, Winter 2015 Issue)